A Salute to Telly Monster

Michael Wermuth – Telly Monster has been on Sesame Street since the 10th season and has been a main character since at least the twelfth. He has had major roles in both of the Sesame Street movies as well as many of the specials and direct-to-video projects. In an era when many longtime classic characters don’t appear in as many episodes as they used to (even Big Bird tends to appear in just a few episodes per season), Telly is one of the few to be heavily featured in almost every episode, as well as one of the few to regularly be the focus of the street stories, and yet he’s still underrated.

Actually, I never really noticed that Telly was underrated until pretty recently. There haven’t been too many Telly Monster toys, Telly has never had his own spotlight video or album (though I can’t think of too many Telly segments that I’d call “The Best of Telly”). He has been prominent in a handful of recurring segments like Ask Oscar, Sneak Peek Previews, and Monster on the Spot, but since the show started having various segments appear in every episode (or every other episode) he has never hosted his own daily segment.

Let’s take a look back at Telly’s history. He was originally conceived as a monster obsessed with watching television, hence the name Telly. He had spinning spiral eyes and antennae, and often watched television too close to the screen. He first appeared in episode 1257, and was originally performed by Bob Payne, but after only a handful of appearances he was temporarily dropped from the show, his eyes changed and antennae removed so he could be used as a generic monster. Then when Caroll Spinney was unable to make it to work on the day of shooting a Big Bird episode, it was decided to bring back Telly, keeping the name but changing the personality, and given to Brian Meehl (the only other performer at the studio that day). Meehl gave Telly the voice and personality he’s known for, and when Meehl left in 1984, Marty Robinson took over, initially imitating the voice Meehl gave him for a few years, before making the voice a little more different.

A lot has happened with Telly over the years. Since Brian Meehl started the character, Telly has always been a worrywart. Over time he has become obsessed with triangles, had such hobbies as playing the tuba and jumping on his pogo stick, has gotten a doll named Freddy and a hamster named Chuckie Sue, and has been a reporter for Monster on the Spot. He also developed a one-sided friendship with Oscar. Later on he would become friends with Baby Bear, but he and Oscar have still had some great moments together since.

As I said earlier, it is hard for me to think of the best Telly Monster moments, regardless of whether it’s the best of the character or the best of Sesame Street. Last years “Best of Friends” DVD did a good job of selecting Telly clips. But there are some good Telly segments, such as when he played the tuba accompanied by Itzhak Pearlman on violin, or when he sold Kermit a head warmer, or he and Elmo sang “Heavy and Light,” or when Elmo slept over at Telly’s but couldn’t sleep due to his snoring.

I don’t know why Telly is so underrated, but perhaps his reason for being on the show for so many years is because of his performer, Martin Robinson. Since becoming a Muppet performer, most of Robinson’s work has been on Sesame Street, with very few performances in other Henson productions. So he hasn’t been too busy with other productions, allowing him to stay on Sesame Street for the whole year. Even in recent years Marty is among the few Sesame Street Muppet performers who doesn’t have to balance his schedule between performing for Sesame Workshop and Disney’s Muppets.

 So let’s all give a shout-out to Telly Monster!

The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, muppetmindset@gmail.com

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